Voices of Youth: Defining and refining our community

This story is part of a series that sees youth partnered with writing, photography, and art mentors to help capture their own perspective and narrative. The program is made possible with funding from the Skillman Foundation.

If children are the future, well… young adults are the right here and now. The teenage years are some of the most formative in one's life. It's when you meet people that you are actually expected to like enough to come back and see 20 years later. It's when you begin to recognize your place in the world around you and your responsibility to it — and it to you. 

For the second cohort of Voices of Youth, we sat down with nearly a dozen Detroit teenagers who shared with us their thoughts on what community is and what (as "solutions-oriented journalists") they would like the world to understand about the city where they learn and love.

Photo: Val Waller.

The biggest lesson we quickly learned when working with teenagers is the need for engagement. Intense engagement has been necessary during our recruitment process and throughout the project. Using communications mediums like GroupMe chats just to say hello and check in, as well as zoom meetings, and — quite importantly — several in-person meetings have been instrumental in helping our team develop a quality connection with the students and their mentors. The teens work with a group of extraordinary mentors to create a project that captures their passion for their chosen topics. 

Photo: Joel Fluent Greene.Model D selected five extraordinary mentors, including James Charles Morris (an internationally-acclaimed artist), Valerian Waller (an outstanding photographer and instructor), Chriselle Griffin (a talented social media professional), and Jessica Taylor (a dedicated journalism professional). Acclaimed poet and event promoter Joel "Fluent" Greene is our Detroit Voices of Youth Engagement Coordinator and Poetry mentor. 

"All of these students carry so much light in their own, unique ways,” says Greene. “My hope is that they feel supported, heard, and understood by their mentors, and — once published — the public. I can't help but imagine how much my young, curious, nerdy self would've appreciated an opportunity like Voices of Youth." 

"From holding the workshops in a historic theater where they were given a tour (shout out to the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts), to being given the chance to work with mentors who are top-notch in their fields, I hope they feel the care put into this experience." 

Photo: Joel Fluent Greene.

This cohort consists of nearly a dozen students many of whom are from the Cody-Rouge Community Action Alliance where they are already involved in a number of projects aimed at improving their community. 

Tymara Ware, a junior at Cody High School, is writing and photographing the opening of the Cody Calm Center, a dedicated safe space inside the school where students can go when they need a mental health break. 

Another of our youth, Jaimee, who goes to Cass is writing a poem about her grandparents who drove city buses for D-DOT their whole careers and dedicated their lives to improving their neighborhood. "My grandparents were the kinds of people who would mow the lawn of abandoned houses on the block," she says, "they always helped everyone." 

She tells us how much of an impression it left on her and the rest of family, "They always taught us to appreciate what we have and take care of it." 

"Working with Jaimee on her project has been an absolute pleasure,” says Greene. “To hear her speak so warmly if her grandparents deeply resonated with me. Especially considering mine are no longer living. She is extremely intelligent, inquisitive, and focused. It's funny…when we were sitting and talking at Aretha's Jazz Café, all I could think about was how the world would be in good hands if left to young adults like her." 

"Jaimee is using this opportunity with Voices of Youth to give flowers to two individuals who truly represent what it means to be a positive part of a community,” Greene says. “It's an honor to engage her at the beginning of what I know will be an amazing career in journalism." 

The next few pieces in our Voices of Youth series will feature the work of our young people. We look forward to publishing their articles, photos, and poems that were created during the project. We will also host a public gathering to celebrate the project's end this spring, bringing you the voices of Detroit's youth on problems and solutions in our community. 

Photo: Val Waller
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Read more articles by Biba Adams.

Biba Adams is a regular contributor and project editor for Model D. Formally Model D's Editor at Large, she is a longtime journalist whose work is fueled by her passion for people and her native Detroit. Find her on all social channels @BibatheDiva.